Quilting: The Art of the Everyday Woman
~ a brief overview of the history of quilting ~
"For a substantial part of this country's history, quilts were virtually the only means of personal and artistic expression readily available to the average woman."
~Robert Shaw "Quilts a Living Tradition"
Throughout American history quilting has been a way for women to express their creativity. Before the early part of the 19th century most quilting was done by those who could afford household help. Imported prints were hard to come by so broderie perse was a popular way to stretch the use of these fabrics. Women would cut out flowers and other motifs then carefully turn a tiny seam and appliqué them to a large piece of solid fabric.
By 1850 the manufacture of textiles had moved to being factory based. Ordinary women no longer had to spend hours a day spinning and weaving. At last they could find the time to be more creative including the making of quilts. This opportunity blossomed into quilting as the art of the everyday woman.
In the mid 1800s Signature Quilts became popular. These ranged from the fine Sampler Album Quilts of beautiful appliqué to quite simple blocks with a place on each for friends to sign their names. Families in America were mobile then as they are now. Friendship Quilts became a precious memory of old friends
Quilts played a vital role during the Civil War. Soldiers desperately needed warm bedcoverings and women tried their best to meet that need. By the end of the war it is estimated that over 250,000 quilts and comforts had been made for Union soldiers. It was more difficult for southern women to produce quilts as fabric became scarce because of blockades to southern harbors.
When people think of old time quiltmakers they often think of the Amish. It may come as a surprise that the Amish only began making quilts around 1870 but within 15 years Amish Quilts became quilt common. This is because they believed in doing things the old way and were always making quilts typical of an earlier era.
The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition inspired the Crazy Quilts that were so popular in Victorian society. These quilts were made using velvets, silks, and brocades cut and pieced in random shapes. Women then embroidered along the seams with fancy stitches.
There was a great revival of quilting in the 1920s and the popularity of quilting continued through the depression years. The creating of a beautiful quilt helped women forget the hard times they were going through. It was also a way to add a touch of beauty to a home using fabric already at hand.
There is no doubt that quilting has reflected the lives, hopes and dreams of women over the decades. By reading about these quilts we begin to get a sense of what it was like to be a creative women over those distant years.
© 2001 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)
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